Food insecurity

Can Sacramento rise to a post-holiday food challenge?

Blake Young is president and CEO of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
Dr. William Olson is senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of California.

Winter can be one of the toughest times of the year for those in need. Food insecurity is a real life challenge for many of our local residents, and the cold winter nights just drive up that need.

We have just passed the holiday season when people often think of opening their pantries and pocketbooks to lend a helping hand to those in need. In fact, during the holidays, nearly six in 10 Americans planned to donate to a charity, and 75 percent said they would contribute food to a food bank, according to a recent American Red Cross poll.

But now, during the winter months and as our economy continues to recover at a sluggish pace, it’s no surprise that the need for food is greater than ever. We encourage you to consider a gift or donation to your local food bank, which provides healthy and nutritious food to families and individuals in need. The Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services helps support area men, women and children, providing emergency goods and services.

An active part of the local community, UnitedHealthcare of California recently donated $5,000 to Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services to build upon residents’ generosity and to help local families in need enjoy a nutritious meal. The donation will also help the nonprofit provide emergency goods and services to men, women and children throughout Northern California. Statewide, one out of every three California residents struggles to put food on the table, according to SFBFS.

January is an ideal time to take inventory of your cupboards and identify food and other items to donate to local food banks or other charitable organizations.

Here are a few tips to make the most of your generosity:

• Protein-rich foods are among the best items to donate, such as peanut butter, tuna and high-iron cereal. Donations of ready-to-eat meals such as beef stew and chili help those who have limited cooking facilities.

• Canned fruits and vegetables are also great options, as well as dried fruits and nuts. Pasta, beans and rice are also useful.

• Some food banks prefer cash donations rather than groceries, in part because the organizations can leverage economies of scale when purchasing food. The food banks can also tailor their purchases for the specific needs of the people it serves. Gift certificates for local grocery stores are another great option.

• Often overlooked donation items include household items such as paper towels, toothpaste or soap.

• Some foods are unsuitable for donation. Those include home-canned, vacuum-packed or pickled foods, as well as food prepared or cooked at home. (It is also important to make sure any canned or packaged foods have not passed their expiration dates.)

Donating to a local food bank makes you feel good and creates space in often overstuffed cupboards or pantries. By following the above tips, you will also ensure your donation does as much good as possible.